The policy was actually lauded by family planning advocates, and it helped to keep Iran’s birthrate under two percent and prevented many families from being overburdened by large families in a nation with a legacy of sanctions and a reputation for severe economic mismanagement and corruption.
Today, not only has the policy been revoked, but the theocratic leaders of Iran have actually returned to encouraging citizens to have babies at the highest rate possible. Throughout the country, education programs and government facilities have changed to accommodate the renewed conservative outlook on family planning.
“We don’t accept less than five,” Ayatollah Mohammad Hosseini Ghazvini said on Velayat TV, encouraging the audience to have “five, eight, 12, and 14” babies, and to reverse the population control trend of the previous three decades.
Since the vasectomy policy was a reaction to economic hardship in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, this abrupt change is presumably a quick response to the real and anticipated economic resurgence in light of sanctions relief and emerging deals with other Middle Eastern and Asian nations. It is an interesting window into some of the social consequences of the new, softer approach to Iran by the West.
The suddenness of this turnaround suggests that in this area of life, as in most others, the government of Iran is more concerned with its extreme Islamic worldview and with political expediency than it is with the concerns of its own people. Naturally, many private citizens and doctors are reacting negatively to the change – and doing so anonymously, for fear of reprisal.
The Christian Science Monitor quotes one 32-year-old Iranian banker as saying that with the cost of everyday necessities and the rate of inflation, two children is all he can afford. Consequently, he chose to pay the 200 dollars that it now costs to have a vasectomy. But there are many other Iranians who cannot afford this cost, and others who accept the government propaganda about family size, against their own self-interest.
For these people, there will be significant social consequences in the future. One Iranian doctor reported that the rate of illegal abortions has risen since vasectomies became so costly. Not only does this put the health of poor women at risk, but it puts them at risk of landing in Iran’s notorious prison system, with is overcrowding, deficiency of medical care, and arbitrary, often violent punishments.
But assuming that the current large family policy has the same motives as the one that was in place prior to the 1980s, all of these individual risks and consequences are worthwhile if the theocratic regime of Iran can create a growing population of “soldiers for Islam.”